Thursday, August 8, 2013

Escape To Don Gregorio

June 24, 2013

After a long two transfers in Mordor, the heart of the capital in Santo Domingo, Elder Gatherum and I have finally escaped.  Years of missionaries trying and failing to revive the dead area couldn't save Mordor from it's inevitable closing.  Although I enjoyed my time there getting to know some really fantastic members and being with an awesome companion, there really wasn't anything left for missionaries to do there.  Our days were devoid of direction or purpose, weeks would roll on without getting any lessons or references, and there was very little hope for the ongoing investigator drought.  We worked to the end, but the area just wouldn't budge for anything and the Lord saw fit for this unbreakable stallion to be set free.  With the capital at our backs as we set out for the countryside, we could only wonder what a short hiatus might do for the area.  

I am now stationed in a small, endearing town called Don Gregorio well outside of the bustling city of Bani on the South coast of the island.  This area is one of the few areas in this mission that lies directly on the beach and is one of the more rural locations in our zone.  It is legitimately a town carved out of the jungle and houses a community of rugged yet carefree small town folk.  The atmosphere exudes the typical traits of beach town life and the strong tropical breeze combats the infamous Caribbean heat.  Our house is decent, although we only have electricity sporadically for hour long segments throughout the day and our water schedule is just as unpredictable, but the location is fantastic.  At night the wind roars through the house and shakes the plantain trees outside our windows creating an orchestration of tropical sounds that lull us to sleep.  Our mosquito nets protect us from the barrage of mosquitoes that hunt throughout the night and we wake up to zealous roosters in the fields behind our house.  You can taste the salt that hangs in the ocean air and hear the roar of the waves crashing onto the rocky shores.  Truly a paradisaical way of living.

Being such a small town, almost everyone has been contacted and taught by the missionaries more than once.  We can walk from one side of our area to the other in less than 10 to 15 minutes and contact the entire area in less than a week if we so desired.  My new companion, Elder Larsen, has seen quite some time here and is almost too familiar with the city.  He hails from Arizona and is as familiar with the Spanish language as a Texan is to his barbecue.  He served in Mordor before I did so we can relate to each other and we are both enjoying the energy and spontaneity present here in the campo. We are currently teaching a handful of strong youth investigators who we plan to baptize in these upcoming weeks, which will also be some of my last here in the DR.  

As my time as a missionary begins to fade I have the opportunity to look back and recognize what an absolutely life-changing experience this has been.  Though it was a long, difficult, and often tiresome journey, it was an adventure that I will never forget and will forever treasure in my heart.

One Does Not Just Teach In Mordor

April 1, 2013

Transfers, once again.  I could have sworn I just arrived in Los Alcarrizos and now I have to leave this area and the people I met and worked with there behind.  Time really is slippery. 

Only a week ago I finished training Elder Forsyth in Los Alcarrizos.  I have never worked harder in any area than I did there with my first child in the mission. Elder Forsyth and I had an absolute blast and found a handful of really amazing people and families to work with, not mention had a few baptisms. It was truly an unforgettable experience, but it was also laced with disappointment.  It was so disheartening to watch so many of our investigators fail to progress for worldly distractions and see our work turn to naught so quickly.  Despite our efforts we saw very little progress in our area and watched many once golden investigators fade back into the shadows.  Nonetheless, it was a pleasure to serve along Elder Forsyth and I couldn't be more proud of my mission son who is now in charge of the area.

I am now stationed in the capital.  Deep capital.  In fact, so deep into the city I live minutes from the temple, a short walk away from the main office, a couple skips away from fast food joints, and we´re practically next door neighbors with the President of the mission.  Our area is named Mirador, but we prefer to call it ¨Mordor¨, despite the negative connotations.  We live in a house tucked into the alcove of a mini-apartment complex with a handful of English speaking Dominicans as our neighbors.  We always have electricity at night (although it leaves for the majority of the day) and luckily we always have water as long as we have electricity.  

Mordor is what some missionaries would call a ¨dead¨ area.  We don't have investigators and we are wary to ever get our hopes up on ever really having any.  We spend the majority of our days contacting rich, gated houses (usually using video intercoms, which can make for some hilariously awkward moments) and we even resort to sidewalk contacting at times.  We try and visit the members and less actives when we can since references are really the only way we would ever see progress here.  It´s very strange shifting from working in such a poor, humble to area to a city of such wealth and luxury.  

My new companion is named Elder Gatherum and comes from Logan, Utah.  He currently has 14 months on the mission and only has one transfer here in Mordor, so we are both pretty new here.  The area is going to be difficult, but it will be easier to endure with a companion I get along with.  Elder Gatherum and I have been friends since before we became companions so we're going to make the most of our time together and enjoy the area despite it's notoriety.  On a side note, I will also be the district leader of an all sister district.  With how close I am to going home I see that as a blessing.  I haven't talked to girls in English since...well, a long time ago.  Let's just say I'm going to need a lot of practice. 

However, on my second day in this area we had an experience that put all of my previous conceptions about this area to the test.  We had finished contacting when we decided to rest in a park for a while.  We had been sitting for only a few minutes discussing the hopeless state of our area, when a man approached us and demanded us to take down his address and visit him.  We, of course, did as he told us.  A few days later we visited with Victor and he proceeded to explain to us that his children had become members only a year ago but that he had never been interested in the Mormon religion.  In these past few years his life has taken a turn for the worse.  He used to be an extremely wealthy business owner and even had a close friendship with the President of the Dominican Republican.  He tried to make a radical change in his business but it failed and he quickly lost all of his money.  He now lives in a very small home with hardly any money and can't find a job.  He is one of the most humbled men I met here.  We had a powerful first lesson with him in which we taught this highly intelligent man basic, primary gospel principles and this Sunday he eagerly attended church for the first time.  I have never met a man more ready for the gospel.

I have high hopes for Mordor.  If Victor is the only man who I will ever teach here than so be it.  Elder Gatherum and I are determined to make this transfer unforgettable, as it is one of my last.  The area might be dead, but I won't be.  

There's Good Worth Fighting For

February 11, 2013

My second transfer in Los Alcarrizos has come and gone.  Another 6 weeks of training Elder Forsyth and searching for new investigators.  The new year has begun rather slow, but I guess this was never meant to be quick work. 

A few months ago Elder Forsyth and I had multiple baptisms who have thankfully remained active in the church up until now.  As a missionary, the most painful experience is to watch one of your investigators, converts, and friends join the fold and then slowly slink back into the world.  We have been blessed to watch ours stay active at least for the time that we have been here.  Argentina Dia, despite her age has managed to attend church when she can and has become even stronger of a member than she was when she was baptized.  Santo is also doing well along with the two young boys we baptized who are still attending and Juan Luis is now passing the sacrament every Sunday.  

We've spent the last 6 weeks essentially looking for more people to teach.  Pretty typical missionary stuff.  References were slim (surprise) so we resorted to hard contacting.  To mix things up a bit, when we go door to door, Elder Forsyth and I introduce ourselves, introduce the church, and then we offer to do the dishes for them.  Usually all we get is a laugh, but it's enough to get us into the door.  This method has actually won us a fair amount of success.  At the end of these last six weeks and having contacted over 800 people, we are now teaching four strong families.  We have also happened upon ten less actives, including two families.  I'd say that's a good start.

Among the investigators we have recently begun teaching is a woman named Jasmine.  We contacted her one day in he street (yes, we offered to do her dishes) and the next day we visited her in the evening.  She lives directly next to a Jehova's Witness church which also means her street is relatively biased, religiously.  I was half assuming we were walking into a bible bash situation.  We sat down with her and began the lesson as the church behind us roared with church-goers belting out indiscernible worship songs accompanied to blaring instruments.  We hadn't even begun teaching when she told us she had a question for us.  She explained to us that she used to be a member of another church and that only a year ago her husband had passed away abruptly leaving her alone with two young daughters.  She was very distressed and went to her pastor for comfort concerning the afterlife.  Her pastor explained to her that she would see her husband again but that they would never be a family again.  Since then she has not attended church and has worked to care for her daughters alone.  Through the blacked-out night and over the deafening noise, she solemnly asked us if she could be with her husband again after death.  We, of course, had an answer.  2 weeks later, Jasmine is progressing well and is currently praying about the Book of Mormon.  

A little before the beginning of this transfer while searching for a  reference in a maze of huts and unmapped dirt roads, a teenage girl called my companion and I over to her.  Usually when girls call us over the gospel is the last thing they want to talk about.  This one, however, was determined to talk to us and practically chased us down to do so.  Surprisingly, she wanted us to teach her and had already been attending church, but in another ward.  Ever since that day we have been teaching her and she has progressed beyond our expectations.  She has already begun attending seminary and has made multiple friends at church, not to mention learned and applied everything we've taught her.  Alejandra will be baptized this coming Saturday.  

Los Alcarrizos has proven to be a rich area in terms of missionary work and I only hope that we will see fruits.  Missionary work is fulfilling but with so much dependence on the agency of others it can also be overwhelmingly disappointing.  I have seen so many families who were so ready for the blessings of the gospel turn their backs on our message for such petty things and deny truths that could have changed their lives for the better.  I have seen so much good here in Los Alcarrizos and I only hope that we might be able to add a little bit more.  

Gifts of All Kinds

December 31, 2012

Christmas has come and gone and the New Year is upon us.  Here in the DR they really only celebrate Christmas by eating ridiculous amounts of food and the New Year is usually welcomed in by unreasonable amounts of drinking.  Never the less, we managed to have a wonderful holiday season as missionaries and even brought some select souls to baptisms.  I think it´s now safe for me to sing ¨I'll be home for Christmas.¨

Three weeks ago I received my first child in the mission, Elder Forsyth.  He hails from Seattle, Washington and already knows a great amount of Spanish from having worked at an orphanage in Peru for 6 months.  Makes training him that much easier.  He has learned how to teach the basic lessons and is quickly transitioning to Dominican life.  The freezing cold bucket showers can be a real deal breakers sometimes.  

During my first week with Elder Forsyth, I had the privilege to head back to my last area, Cristo Rey, to participate in the baptism of Roman and Ingrid.  Elder Adams and I had worked with this family for almost 4 months and they were finally able to get married and get baptized only recently.  I watched Roman transform from simply a curious investigator to a true man of faith.  His wife, amazed from the conversion of her husband, accepted the gospel into her life as well and they made the necessary changes in their lives and family.  I was able to perform the baptism of Ingrid and it was a very powerful experience overall.  I was able to talk to Gladis, who I also taught back in Cristo Rey, and found her preparing to be married and on the path to baptism.  I think I will always have at least some portion of my heart resting back in Cristo Rey.

During my second week with my newborn child we busily prepared four investigators for baptism.  After overcoming the minor setbacks that always seem to appear when anticipating baptisms, we finally got all 4 baptized.  Two of them were young boys named Juan Luis and Miguel.  Juan Luis is 12 years old, has prominent, adorable buck teeth, and has attended church for 4 years despite his parents not being members.  Miguel is 9 years old, has strong member parents, and is probably the cutest little Dominican child I have ever met.  He is so short that when Elder Forsyth baptized him he came up flailing his tiny little legs trying to find the bottom of the font.  One of my favorite moments while teaching him happened as I reviewed the principle of repentance.  He understood the principle and I asked him if he felt that he had repented and felt ready for baptism.  He responded with a look of offense and a stern ¨no¨.  I was a little confused and his mom was little more than concerned as we questioned him, very lovingly, why he felt that way.  His response was one of humble, childlike essence: ¨Well, I haven't repented because I haven't done anything wrong.¨

Our other two baptisms included a man named Santo and a woman named Argentina Dia.  Santo is a 40 year old man who was found by earlier missionaries as they contacted and who has completely converted to the gospel.  He has overcome a fierce drug addiction and made many changes in order to finally become a member of the church.  He has come a long way and is showing no sign of slowing down.  Argentina Dia is probably the most interesting baptism I have ever had.  She was contacted by the missionaries some time ago when she began to attend church and felt the spirit very strongly.  She has slowly learned and accepted all of the doctrine that the restored church offers.  She is also 82 years old and can hardly walk.  Being so old we had some apprehensions about how we would physically baptize her, but her fierce desire to do so overpowered our fears.  We slowly got her down the stairs, into the font, and situated her to perform the ordinance with my companion standing alongside to assist in case she had trouble.  She had a short moment of shock during which she couldn't understand any of the instructions I was giving her.  She very sweetly began saying the cutest little personal prayer under her breath and then told me she was ready to ¨just get it over with already¨.  As I went to submerge her in the water, she must have forgotten the instructions I gave her and did not plug her nose.  I wasn't about to let a little water up the nose interfere with months of hard work and preparation, so I lowered her down into the water and brought her up sputtering.  She recovered quickly and exited the font cursing her knee, although very happy to finally have been baptized.  

My third week with Elder Forsyth was unfortunately the beginning of a severe investigator drought.  We baptized everyone we had and now we have to find more.  I guess that's a good problem to have.  Reference fishing and street contacting have become our best friends as the Dominican sun remains as hot as ever.  We hope to find more investigators and maybe get a nice tan out of the deal.  Merry Christmas everyone, and have a wonderful New Year.

Change and Training

December 10, 2012

It´s amazing how much can change in so little time.  Only three weeks ago I left Cristo Rey and began my new life in Los Alcarrizos.  I´ve become much more familiar with the area now and it has really begun to grow on me, no jungle pun intended.   

When I entered Los Alcarrizos, I became the step-dad (second companion) of Elder Sams who comes from Las Vegas, is a convert to the church of only 2 years, and is the only child and member of the church in his family.  His Spanish was very well developed and he was a hard worker.  During our second week together, he called our mission president dead set on returning home and leaving the church.  His parents had already made plans to fly in and he would not change his mind.  After discussing the situation with the mission President and other leaders, Elder Sams made the decision to remain in the church but terminate his mission until he felt comfortable to return.  Three days later (Sunday) his parents came to church along with the mission President to pick him up.  I translated for the parents and they left directly afterwards.  Elder Sams promised me that he would stay active in church and he left with much more confidence in his testimony of the restored gospel.

I couldn't be left alone without a companion of course, so I received a mini-missionary named Hermano Midy.  A mini-missionary is a youth member who is called to serve a mission for only a short amount of time to experience mission life and, in this case, to fill a vacancy.  Hermano Midy is from Haiti and is a convert of only 1 year.  He has served multiple mini-missions and knows Spanish, French, and Creole.  He is a hilarious little kid and has a very powerful  conversion story, involving his miraculous survival of the disastrous earthquake in Haiti.  He is shy to speak, but when he does he is powerful.  

In this last week I have had to take over the entire area with only two weeks of experience.  I suppose it´s better than being completely whited out as some missionaries must experience, but it has  nevertheless been daunting.  Our areas is massive and we walk the majority of the day to reach our appointments which are spread out from the busy main road of this city to the outskirts of this country's vast tropical plains.  We have been very blessed to receive many references from members and we are now juggling a ton of great investigators who have baptismal goals. The only problem is finding them and getting back home again without getting lost.  

Among these investigators we are teaching 4 families, all of which need to get married (a very difficult and expensive process here in the DR).  One investigator we have is amazingly strong and convinced of the truth of our message, but she is so old she can hardly get to church, let alone get baptized.  I recently received another reference for a woman whose son had been attending church.  We shared with her for a time and she was skeptical of our message, but in time she received a very sweet answer to her prayers regarding the church and wishes to be baptized with her son.  There is more than enough work to do here in Los Alcarrizos.  

Back in the concrete jungles of Cristo Rey, Elder Adams has been keeping busy with the families that we found together.  I was recently informed that Roman and his wife have made the decision to get married and will be getting baptized along with their children this coming Saturday.  We worked with this family for almost 5 months and watched as their testimonies grew throughout all of their trials.  I have received permission to return to Cristo Rey on Saturday to participate in the baptism.  

Only a short time into my experience with Hermano Midy I got a call from the mission office informing me that I would only be with my mini-missionary for one week.  That didn't make sense because the transfer still has three weeks left to go.  I was only recently told that I would spend the last 3 weeks of this transfer training a brand new elder.  Apparently an elder in the MTC right now feels comfortable enough with his Spanish to leave the MTC early and enter the field to be trained by none other than "yours truly".  From what I understand, his name is something along the lines of Elder Forscythe.  Other than that, I know absolutely nothing about him.  I will retrieve him tomorrow morning and will begin my life as a mission father.  

An unfamiliar area with a clueless companion in charge of a city full of investigators and less actives who speak a foreign language?  Mission accepted.

Transferred to Los Alcarrizos

November 26, 2012

Transferred.  18 weeks in Cristo Rey flew by and I am now stationed in Los Alcarrizos with Elder Sams from Oklahoma.  Change always hurts, but new experiences are great opportunities for growth, both personally and spiritually.

Los Alcarrizos is an area that was described to me as half-city, half-campo.  I didn't quite understand that until I got here.  We live in the city, a bustling town with a main street called the Duarte running through it.  We walk up and down this road to get around the majority of our over sized area and step down into alleys that branch off the main street where many of our investigators live.  The further in we go, the deeper we get into the jungles of the DR.  Some streets simply fade to dirt roads that turn to mud after the daily rain showers pass through, while others literally drop off into rivers or thick foliage.  One portion of our area called the Tamarindo is a maze of makeshift wooden and tin huts and which, interestingly enough, houses the majority of our progressing investigators.  In a single day we work in the up-skirts of town to the edges of the thick Caribbean jungle and I absolutely love it.  

Our house, unfortunately, is a downgrade.  Ive had to accustom myself once again to freezing cold bucket showers and inconsistent light schedules.  Its strange, but somehow I did kind of miss the hum of the electricity leaving and the sound of mosquitoes buzzing around my mosquito net.  Its disturbing and soothing all at once.  We live in a four man house including myself, Elder Sams, Elder Meek (Idaho Falls), and Elder Peralta (Puerto Plata - DR).  I will be the district leader this transfer and we have a few prospective baptisms we are looking forward to. 

Our current progressing investigators are of all varieties.  We have a baptismal goal set with an 80 year old woman who can hardly remember anything she reads nor walk to church by herself.  She progresses wonderfully, however, so we will have to give her some time and see if she can really continue to attend church consistently and understand the covenants she will be making.  I'm just afraid that she will keel over before we can even fill up the font.  We are also teaching various children who will have to really show some dedication if they want me to baptize them.  Children go inactive much too easily and I am not about to add another tally mark to the less less active count in this country.  Among other promising investigators we have the Eriberto Family who are possibly the most golden investigator family I have ever met.  Contacted a year ago by one of my good friends in the mission, they have attended church faithfully and have been taught by the missionaries as they try to get married.  We can hardly even teach them because they respond to our questions with such knowledge and detail that they hardly leave us with any material left to cover.  Their plans are to get married in this coming month so I may be a part in their baptism.  

New places, new people; I guess this is all part of the program.  Its always hard to rip yourself away from what was once your home, but with time you settle down and eventually find new people to love and new experiences to cherish.  I have a feeling that it wont be too difficult to find my home again here in Los Alcarrizos.  

Sandy and Gladis

November 5, 2012

Halfway through my third transfer in Cristo Rey with Elder Adams and we have yet to beat each other up.  15 weeks of working, sleeping, eating, teaching, contacting, and sweating in the same area with the same companion can get relatively monotonous, but luckily Cristo Rey keeps us on our toes and we have managed to retain our sanity.  Halloween isn't celebrated here so that was a bit of a disappointing holiday.  Thanksgiving should be equally uneventful. 

Hurricane Sandy blew through a little while ago and brought with it an ocean´s worth of rain and colder weather than I've felt in years.  We´re talking 60 to 70 degree temperatures here.  I know, really cold.  Our fans got a break for a few days and we couldn't dry out our clothes for that time, but other than that we weren't affected.  Many houses here are made of wood slats, cardboard, or concrete blocks so many were struggling to keep dry.  Even our thick concrete walls were becoming damp from water seeping in through unnoticeable cracks.  Sandy left it´s mark. 

Recently we have been facing very little progression among our investigators.  The Sosa Family are still strong but are having trouble making the decision to get married.  We continue to teach them and they attend church but they may have to take a few more steps of faith before they arrive at baptism.  We have also been teaching a woman named Gladis recently who has been very receptive.  As we began to teach her she appeared relatively disinterested, but one day we show up to her house and she told us that she had prayed and had received an answer that the church was true.  I thought maybe she was confused, but she used specific wording in bearing her testimony to us, mentioning the restoration, Joseph Smith, and modern day prophets.  I was in shock and I had to hold back chuckles when I look over at my companion whose mouth was hanging open.  For all of the prayer invitations we extend, not many people actually do it.  She has since attended church, read all of the pamphlets, and is currently making plans to be married.  Tight.  We have also been receiving various references from members that have major potential.  Maybe having another baptism here isn't as distant of a dream as I thought it was.  

Mormon Fanboys

October 8, 2012

At this time last year I was trying to survive my first few weeks in the DR with my trainer as I struggled to understand why anyone could ever learn to speak Spanish.  I've come a long way since then...well not geographically.  I'm still stuck on this island, but I can at least order my own food and find a bathroom now.  I'm now well into the "bers" (Septem-, Octo-, Novem-, Decem-) and Christmas is beckoning me

General Conference was this past weekend and this time we six American missionaries got to watch it in English in a separate room.  I really should have taken a picture of us all huddled in that small room, each with a bag full of snacks and listening with baited breath for who would speak next.  We reacted like avid sports fans when an apostle would lay down the law or a profound, quotable phrase presented itself.  I'm pretty sure the amount of "OOOOhhhs!" and fist bumps edged on irreverent when Elder Holland spoke.  We are the nerdiest Mormon fanboys on this side of the island

Transfer calls came once again and I will be staying with Elder Adams for another transfer here in Cristo Rey.  That will make a whopping 5 months working together.  Good thing we get along.  This cycle we want to refocus our efforts on references.  We contact day in and day out and have hardly anything to show for it.  If we work with the members and less-actives we can not only strengthen the members but also find stronger investigators.  Well, that's the plan anyways.  Currently we are working on getting Roman a job so he will feel more comfortable paying the expensive marriage fee.  This last weekend we fasted with him and we hope that he will see blessings from his faith.  

We have various other families that are having even more trouble getting married and their progression is hitting a wall.  We're going to have to dig into our shallow reservoirs of patience to see them through, but it's worth the wait and the struggle.  The church was restored.  We have a prophet.  There is a plan.  The Book of Mormon is true.  Christ does live and his Father does know us.  The gospel is the way.  He is the light.  We are His children and His sheep.  This is my simple testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Blue Skies and Sunshine

September 17, 2012

9 weeks in Cristo Rey.  The heat is starting to pick up again and I'm beginning to believe that the whole "rainy season" thing is a complete lie.  We haven't had rain in weeks and it seems as though clouds are only ever seen on the horizon.  You look into the sky and all you get is a face full of blue sky and sunshine.  Luckily we haven´t had to spend too much time in the streets lately since we have found plenty of people who invite us into there homes and let us take up couch space.

In the last few weeks Elder Adams and I have been blessed to find a slew of interested and interesting investigators, the majority of which are families:

The Berroa Family and The Sosa Family are our two main families at the moment.  We have worked with them since I arrived here in Cristo Rey and they both have enough interest to get baptized.  Salvation isn't cheap however and each person has their respective stumbling blocks.  The Sosa family are attending church and have received all of the lessons, but they are not married.  At the moment they don't have a stable financial situation and have decided to postpone their marriage until they can get back on their feet.  The Berroas, on the other hand, are married, but they unfortunately work and study full time and have ridiculously crammed schedules.  They have a hard time getting to church and an even harder time meeting with us.  These families will one day be baptized, it just might take a little longer than we want it to.

Through contacting we have also found the Bautista Family.  From the first contact we new they were something special.  Our first visit with this young couple went great and the second had us itching to fill up the baptismal font.  The husband works throughout the day so his wife would read the pamphlets and then tell her husband about them.  She had also found a PDF version of the Book of Mormon online and read a few chapters before we even explained it to her.  After reading she only had two questions: who is that Joseph Smith guy and what is the Book of Mormon?  They even wanted us to share our experiences on receiving answers through prayer.  They seem almost too good to be true....

Families are great, but a strong priesthood holder can be great too.  That's why Elder Adams and I are excited to teach our new investigator Cesar.  He is a short, stocky, middle aged man who knows perfect English and lives alone.  The first time we met with him he told us immediately that we wouldn't be able to convert him and that he was not a religious man.  We weren't about to let him kick us back out into the hot streets without a fight so we very sternly explained to him that we are only messengers, not assassins.  We invite, not convert.  He listened to our message and by the next lesson he had read and was asking great questions.  He shows positive signs of progressing and has been praying every day.  The only catch?  He's basically a drug lord.  Well, we're pretty sure he is.  He's never told us directly, but the gangster posse that hangs out in front of his house every day, the collections of high-end beer bottles lying around the house, his four cell phones he takes out before we share with him, and his triple gated, padlocked entryway is a pretty big giveaway.  How we ever even contacted this man is beyond me.  He told us that he is very interested in our message but feared that he would not be able to convert because of his addiction to "the skirt and the drink", as he puts it.  We beg to differ.

When we aren't burning out our retinas contacting in the streets, we are usually found teaching English, planning ward activities, or trying to get less-actives to come back to church.  It's slow and steady, but at least we're making progress here in Cristo Rey. 

Like A Hurricane

August 27, 2012

One transfer in Cristo Rey.  Six weeks in the big city with Elder Adams.  Transfer calls came and we will both be staying here together for another Six weeks.  That means another month and a half of cooking American food and communicating in English.  I'm counting my blessings. 

Last Saturday we were able to baptize one our investigators named Minerva.  She has been investigating the church for almost a year now and was essentially a member already.  We just had to convince her that getting baptized isn't as scary as she thought it was and she took the plunge.  It was a very emotional day for her and many of her strong member friends attended.  She will be a fantastic addition to our already strong ward.  Besides Minerva we are already working with two other families who are investigating the church.  We are currently planning the wedding for one of them and we hope that they will be able to get baptized this transfer. 

On the subject of being immersed in water, Hurricane Issac decided to stop in for a visit this last week and brought with it an entire ocean of rain.  We were stuck in the house for two days as water and wind pounded the Dominican Republic.  At one point we ventured outside and found an entire street that had been flooded by the rain.  We trudged through the streets and helped a few of our neighbors move furniture and other valuables as water rushed into their houses.  As disastrous as the scene appeared, the natives were relatively unshaken and were constantly referring to the rain as a blessing.  Quite the humbling experience.  Luckily the rain has now subsided and we can get back to work again.  6 more weeks in Cristo Rey with Elder Adams and the entire city will be under water...the waters of baptism that is!  I crack myself up.

Of Families and Fritos

July 30, 2012

Having completed a full year as a missionary, we celebrated how any true American would: by eating things and burning things.  As per mission tradition I burned a shirt that had been taking up space in my suitcase for a long time.  I also made a delicious (if I might say so myself) frito pizza.  Not the healthiest choice of foods, but when you put four American boys in a house together you can´t expect too many vegetables to get eaten.  Year 2, begin.

This week was relatively uneventful besides for the progress of the ridiculously golden family we have been teaching.  The Berroa Family is comprised of the husband and his wife and their two kids, one girl (7) and one boy (12).  They have been extremely interested in our church and have been reading all of the material we leave with them.  Earlier this week we passed by to say hi and they told us that they had been investigating our church on the Internet.  Needless to say, a lot of doubts had surfaced.  My companion and I were slightly nervous that they would stop progressing and so we rigorously prepared to answer all of their questions.  When we finally taught them again we emphasized the importance of prayer and of testimonies received through the Holy Ghost before we tackled their doctrinal questions.  We then began explaining to them the various doctrinal principles that they had misunderstood while researching on the Internet.  My companion and I found that we were actually over-answering their questions.  Almost as quickly as we answered their questions their doubts melted away and they were once again eager to learn more.  At one point the husband actually asked us if it was possible for families to be together after death.  I wish someone would have taken a picture of my face when he asked that.  The wife gave the closing prayer and (despite the fact that she was praying to Jesus) she began to cry while doing so.  The Lord does indeed prepare those who we teach.  That fact is readily prevalent in almost every strong investigator we find and is obvious as we discuss the restored gospel with the Berroa Family.

Besides them we are also working with a man named Roman who is taking the lessons very well and seems to be enjoying church.  He told us that his wife had been trying to get them legally married for years now so we can only assume that she will love our message too.  We also set a baptismal date with a woman named Minerva who has been a dry member for over a year.  She converted from Catholicism and is nervous to get baptized for fear of the oppression she might receive from her friends and family.  We hope that she will push through and get baptized.  Cristo Rey seems to be full of people ready to accept the restored gospel of Jesus Christ...that or they just can't get enough of our dark American eyes. 

Cristo Rey (Christ the King)

 July 23, 2012

One year.  I have had so much time and yet I still feel as though I am running out.  So many people, places, and experiences have come and gone in these few short months that I constantly feel as though I am looking over my shoulder.  Let me try to recap some of my last few weeks.

These last few weeks in Yaguate have been interesting to say the least.  As far as the missionary work goes, not much has changed.  Elder Domine and I worked hard to bring the less-active members back and we were relatively successful in doing so.  While the attendance in church wasn't anything spectacular, I do feel as though the members were beginning to understand their duties and responsibilities in the church.  Yaguate must have known that I was soon to leave though because it took a few last strikes at me before I could get out.  A few weeks into the transfer when I was with Elder Domine the water stopped coming to our house.  We can usually last a week without water if we are careful but this drought lasted for 13 days.  13 days without water really pushed our survival skills, but we learned that we are more tribal than we thought we were.  Let's just say bucket showers turned into half-bucket showers and shaving became an every other day thing.  Then, only a few weeks ago, we passed by a member who was sick and had requested a blessing, which I gave.  A week later I began to break out in what looked like mosquito bites.  Turns out the member had chicken pox.  I have never had chicken pox.  I quite literally took upon myself her infirmities, which resulted in our companionship remaining in the house for 9 days in order to prevent a chicken pox epidemic from wiping out Yaguate.  Eventually we were able to leave but only in time for me to say goodbye to some members and head off to my new area.  Nice try Yaguate.

I am now stationed in Cristo Rey, a city deep in the capital of Santo Domingo.  You might say that I am now in the concrete jungle.  Just to give you an idea, I haven't seen a single dirt road, plantain tree, or machete wielding Haitian in a week.  We also have one of the few houses in the mission with 24 hour light and water.  I am officially a spoiled man.  "Let them eat cake" is a popular phrase heard in our third story loft occupied by four American missionaries.  Papa John's is getting a lot of business to say the least.  As far as the missionary work goes, it goes.  We have more investigators than I have fingers and our ward is pushing 100 in attendance.  We contact, we teach, we walk, we eat food; I feel like a real missionary.  Among our many investigators is a new family who are already Mormon but they just don't know it yet.  As we sat down with them and their 2 children they listened attentively and asked such great questions we were almost laughing.  The husband once asked us if praying had to be an individual thing.  We can hardly even get long time members to pray with their families. This married - ahem MARRIED - couple are both reading and we hope will be praying to receive their own answers. 

The change in living conditions has definitely sent me into another mini-culture shock.  I miss the spontaneity of jungle life, but I am sure the big city has new and wonderful experiences waiting for me as well.  The city is new, but the church is still true.

We Few, We Happy Few...

June 18, 2012

Week 13 in Yaguate.  Transfers have torn my previous companion from me and I am now privileged to work with Elder Domine.   Elder Domine is from Tonga and is only 6 weeks younger than me in the mission. He lives in Los Angeles, speaks perfect English, loves Lord of the Rings, and enjoys reading...needless to say, we get along very well. 

These last few weeks we have been focusing very heavily on less-actives, as always.  We have spent a lot of time helping them set goals and realize their duty as members.  It is slow work and we very often don't see results, but little by little they are progressing.  With the less-actives we have decided to focus on helping them to read scriptures, pray, and go to church.  Essentially bring them right back to the primary principles.  We are doing the same with the strong members but we also push them to get involved in the mission work by providing references and doing home teaching.  
Elder Domine and I have decided to focus on 5 less-actives in particular:

The Garcia Family is comprised of three sisters and their mother who all live under the same roof.  They all have relatively strong testimonies but are struggling to attend church on a consistent basis.  We believe that they will be an asset to the Relief Society here if we re-animate them to get involved in the work.

Rosaura is a 16 year old girl who is the only member in her family.  She was once a strong member but with time fell away from the church.  When we visited with her she immediately told us that she would return to church and has begun to read in the scriptures once again.  

Marilexis has a similar story to Rosaura as she is young and the only member in her family.  She has also shown a desire to re-activate but is rather sluggish in doing so.  With time and patience she will return to activity.

Omar and Bairum are two young boys who have recently lost focus due to the distractions of summer vacation.  We don't plan on letting them relax for too long.  If we have to drag them to church in their underwear then so be it.  It's about time the missionaries didn't pass the sacrament.  

Katarin and Henry were baptized around 1 year ago and slipped into inactivity.  Katarin is 18 and Henry is 14 which would make them a great addition to the youth program here.  Katarin was eager to return again but Henry absolutely refused to return.  After some discussion we learned that church bored him and that he saw little value in spending time there.  With some work we finally got him to open up and he has decided to return to church.

This last Sunday we had a total of 30 people in church, 10 more than last week.  Both Katarin and Henry came along with 2 of the Garcia Family sisters.  My companion and I gave talks and we hope to have an even greater attendance next week.  Working with less-actives is an amazing opportunity, though often difficult.  We recognize that those attending often don't have strong testimonies, but we also trust that the spirit will one day infiltrate their hearts and help them to understand the blessings that come from faithful activity in the church.  

Whenever we aren't dragging children to church activities or sternly reminded priesthood holders of their neglected duties, we are usually found pounding down giant mangos or lying around the house waiting for the electricity to come back.  The renowned Caribbean heat has returned and is just as relentless as I remember it being.  We have now memorized every point in Yaguate that provides shade on our commonly used routes and freezing cold bucket showers are more than welcome at the end of the day.  As difficult as life is, I have really grown to love this area and the wonderful people who live here.  Our Basic Unity is, yes, basic but I have come to recognize it as a strong foundation for what will be.  The church in Yaguate may be basic, but the people are very much unified.

Like A Fire Is Burning

May 7, 2012

Two months have passed since I first began working in Yaguate and they have finally begun to burn the sugar cane.  Every day we walk for hours along fields packed with bushy, green crops that conceal thick stalks of syrupy sugar cane.  In order to harvest them they first burn the entire field to remove the large fronds and then collect the leftover sugar cane which is apparently impervious to the fire.  No one worries about uncontrollable fires here because the tropical plants are so green it's actually a challenge to try and burn them at all.  Sugar cane is first peeled and then can be eaten by biting off large chunks, sucking out the sugary juice, and then spitting out the dry, stringy remains.  It's not an elegant experience nor a snack that would be approved by any sane dentist, but it tastes great and is probably the closest you will ever get to feeling like a vampire.  

While I would love to report that our basic community is on fire, the truth is that the work is slow.  We have wonderful projections and a promising future in store for this basic community, but we have to take things step by step.  We have no investigators despite having contacted the majority of the city now so we still place the majority of our focus on the hundreds of less-actives in our area.  Working with less-actives is slow work.  Getting them to come back to church is more difficult than just whipping out pictures of fire and brimstone, we have had to be patient with them and have utilized various different approaches to try and convince them to come back into the fold.  Sometimes it works, usually it doesn't.    Our main method of coercion is service and the primary type of service we do here involves machetes.   A "lawn mower" here in the Dominican Republic is defined as any individual who can breathe,  crouch for long periods of time, and wield a long, dull blade.  The missionaries fit that definition perfectly so we spend many of our morning hours hacking away at the overgrowth in the yards of our members.  Luckily we are usually rewarded with fruit that grows abundantly in their yards and we will very often walk home with bags full of mangos, cherries, or plantains.  At one members house we were awarded with a fat guanabana, which looks just about as deadly as it sounds but tastes great.  The guanabana shell is covered in deceivingly soft spines and has a mushy, white interior that tastes slightly sour.  As dignified as I know missionaries are supposed to be, I've never felt so tribal in my entire life eating that fruit like a savage.

In the good news category, The Reyes Family has become surprisingly active in the last few weeks.  One Sunday we had all six of the Reyes kids walking with us to church along with Bairum and another youth in the ward.  We got a few heads to turn as we herded that group of kids down to what the members refer to as our "House of Prayer."  I still am not sure how I feel about the fact that the youth that day almost matched the number of adults that were in attendance.  In order to keep them animated to attend we have also been having youth activities involving games, movies, and a review of the principles in the Strength for Youth pamphlets.  We have been considering putting up a sign outside the church that says "Mormon Daycare."   

Besides the youth movement we have sparked here in Yaguate, our other efforts are not making any significant visual impact.  We support the strong members and serve the weak ones but working with hearts is a long-term operation.  Every less-active has their respective issue to overcome or resolve and unburying dormant testimonies is a shovel by shovel process.  While they often don't seem to understand the importance of what we are trying to do in their lives or have their priorities in the same order as we would have them be, we continue visiting with them and serving them so that one day, when they need what we have to offer them, we can give it to them.  Because "we look not at things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" and everyone, one day, has to wake up from their temporal slumber.  We just hope to be the first ones that they see when they do.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Of Cooking and Converts

 April 16, 2012

Five weeks in Yaguate have come and gone faster than I could even learn how to say ¨Yaguate¨ properly.  We've spent almost our entire time re-activating less-active members and strengthening the active ones.  When we weren't outside hiking from house to shack to shanty, I was usually found in the kitchen.  This transfer I have done all of the cooking in the house and I have expanded my Dominican cooking abilities.  The members in our area are too few and too poor to have us over for dinner very often, but they are always supportive when I ask them for recipes or cooking techniques.  When you live in a home the size of a large closet with a companion who you can hardly understand, you have to at least keep the meals interesting if you want to retain sanity.  This week I made my first Mangu with boiled and mashed plantain and yucca.  It looked like a dog vomited in a bowl, but it tasted fantastic.  Or maybe my tastebuds have just been in the DR for too long...

These past few weeks we have been trudging through Semana Santa (Easter Week here in the DR when everyone is on vacation) and General Conference Weekend, which is practically impossible for these people to attend due to distance and cost.  Now we are working hard to remind our members and less-actives that we do still have church on Sundays and that it is free.  We even entice them with free bread and water.  This last Sunday we were actually given the opportunity to speak in church, but with only 15 people in attendance including us and the leadership it felt more like a fun little get-together than it did sacrament meeting.  Not that we can't feel the spirit every Sunday, but when the Sacrament is passed in 10 seconds and the Bishop sleeps through the majority of the meeting it can often feel a tad informal.  

About 4 weeks ago we got a reference for a 12 year old kid named Bairum who turned out to be gold.  We have been teaching him almost every day and he learned everything quickly.  He has a friend his same age named Omar who we re-activated and who we hope will pass the sacrament with Bairum once he has the priesthood.  This last Saturday, Bairum was finally ready and we were able to baptize him.  We and a small group of members took a van to a chapel 20 minutes away and I was able to perform the baptism.  It was a really great experience and we hope that Bairum will be able to stay active in the church and strengthen the youth program in this basic community.

From my previous area, Las Caobas, I recently learned that Santa (an investigator who I had worked with for 5 months as she escaped her abusive husband) was finally able to get baptized.  Apparently she called the police on her husband and he once again hid from them and escaped.  As this was the fourth time he had had the police called on him, he finally decided to leave the house of his own will.  Santa was baptized about 2 weeks ago, 6 months after the initial day I contacted her with my trainer.  Even though I wasn't able to be there for her baptism, it is a wonderful feeling to know that I was able to help her to eventually escape from her terrible past and embrace a brighter future.  We know that "whoso believeth in God might with a surety hope for a better world" (Ether 12:4) and as a missionary I have had the privilege to witness faithful investigators find just that.

Little Miracles...Literally

March 26, 2012

Week 2 in the small town of Yaguate.  Two weeks of living in a small, two-man house with an only Spanish speaking, Mexican companion miles away from civilization on an island in the middle of the Caribbean in a city so small it doesn't even have an official map.  It's actually not as bad as it sounds.  In fact, I'm loving it.  My Spanish has no doubt improved in these last few weeks as I have been rather brutally immersed in it, but there are still occasional moments when the language barrier won't budge and our communication methods are reduced to our hands.  The miles and miles of walking we do each day just to teach a few lessons has without a doubt been the most difficult adjustment so far.  Having lived in the main city of the Dominican Republic for so long, I was beginning to think that I would be able to last my entire mission on the shoes I brought from home.  Now I am just praying I can make it out of Yaguate with at least one pair still intact.

The majority of our area is basically a jungle in every sense of the term, with the exception of some of the typical jungle wildlife such as monkeys or tigers (I was very disappointed about that).  We have often gotten stuck in the middle of rain storms and had to hop from tree to tree or abandoned Catholic church to abandoned Evangelical church to stay dry (gotta love the irony there), but as long as we keep an eye on the horizon we can usually avoid getting too wet.  The trails are more rock than dirt so mud hasn't been a terrible problem, but the uneven roads are definitely not helping the life-span of my shoes.  It has been a very interesting experience to live so far away from any other missionaries, higher authority, or civilization in general for such a long time; I am still debating whether it is comforting or disconcerting that we have three methods of locking our front door, including a steel gate.

There are no major shopping centers in our area so all of our food and supplies are purchased at a small colmado (store) near our house and I do the majority of the cooking, which isn't as impressive as it sounds.  Our meals generally include rice, spaghetti, or sandwiches in various forms and, of course, cereal.  Sometimes when I get a funky fever I make pizza or tacos, but the spice of life is usually suffocated by the strict mission budget.  Sometimes the members feed us boiled plantains, yucca, fritos, or assorted tropical fruits but we try to avoid letting them spend their minimal earnings to feed us.

Since this area is riddled with less active members, we spend the majority of our day working to re-activate them and strengthen the foundation of our basic community.  After much discussion between our companionship, the local leadership, and with our mission president we have come up with a plan to efficiently use our time to help increase the strength of the church in Yaguate.  Our hierarchy of importance when re-activating the less active members here begins with families, then priesthood, and then youth.  We began our search this week and, despite the ridiculous amount of walking, our efforts have been extremely successful.  We found two young boys who hold the priesthood, which would mean that the sacrament would be passed by youth for the first time in years,  and we received a reference for a young boy who is absolute gold.  A member helped us to find three older women who went  inactive some years ago and we discovered that they were willing to return, which spurred the active women in our ward to increase their efforts in building a relief society.  

Our greatest haul was in finding the Reyes Family, or as I like to call them, the Reyes Bunch.  We came upon them in the ward directory and decided to pass by and find out who they are.  We arrived at their small home off the side of the road and found two older women sitting in rocking chairs who made sure we understood that they were catholic, but we nevertheless questioned them about the numerous Reyes' which our records said lived there.  They shouted into the house and out came around 6 children from ages 5 to 15 who had all been baptized and knew that we were missionaries.  We were surprised to find out that there were also 3 others who weren't there that were also baptized.  Essentially we had just stumbled upon our new primary and youth program.  We taught them throughout the week, talked to our mission president, and our basic community now has a mutual program for the youth.  

The grand finale of the week is always church on Sunday.  For a missionary in the DR, to just have one investigator or less active member show up is like watching the very heavens themselves open up and pour out concourses of angles upon the chapel.  Last Sunday we had 19 people attend including us and the leaders.  This Sunday we had 30 people crammed into our small building that we call a chapel.  We had one investigator attend along with 9 less-active members, 5 of which were youth.  Our goal for the Sunday following General Conference is to at least maintain that number.  If we can continue to re-active priesthood and youth, we might just be able to have a full 3 hours of church on Sundays; the collective dream of a humble community.

 This week we will be drilling the youth we have found to come back to church and to attend the activities.  We believe that a solid youth community will inspire the adults to attend and will provide more callings to provide the members with.  We know that "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass" and we believe that through the Reyes Bunch and the other less-active youth in this city, this basic community will find their small and simple miracle.

Welcome to Yaguate

March 19, 2012

I'm in the campo!  Well, kind of.  I am now in a small city called Yaguate (Ya-wa-tay) about 30 minutes away from the main city of San Cristobal.  I think it would actually be better described as a small town since it doesn't have the attributes of a typical city here in the DR.  The town of Yaguate is lightly populated and the spaced out houses surround a central town square.  I was surprised to discover however that our area extends for miles over mountains and highways and even to the beach itself.  That's right, we have a beach in our area.  A 10 minute walk will take you out of the town and into what is considered campo: rolling hills blanketed in jungle foliage.  The majority of the people in the campo areas live in shantys or huts made of concrete or wood and they are very poor people.

Due to our area boundaries being absurdly large and the general population being scattered along the countryside, we do a lot of walking.  I would estimate that we walk for at least 3-5 hours a day, which you think would quickly get me in shape me in shape again if not for the greasy, Dominican food diet we eat here.  We had one appointment with a man who lived on a mountain that took us 2 hours to scale.  When we arrived we got a beautiful view of the ocean and we found some American preachers from Pennsylvania (it's weird to met people who speak English so deep in the jungle).  
Unlike in my previous area, all of the work we do here is with less-actives.  I understand that there are over 100 less active members and there are currently only 20 active members attending church.  Our "chapel" is actually just a house with one room, collapsible metal chairs,

and a podium.  I referred to it as a ward until someone corrected me explaining that what we have is actually a "basic community", or something like that.  There are only 2 or 3 acting priesthood holders in our ward and the congregation this last Sunday was comprised of about 15 people including us and the few leaders.  I conducted the music while my companion blessed the sacrament.  Our work as missionaries is entirely centered on reactivation and petitioning for references.  We don't want to risk increasing the less-active count by spending our time fishing for investigators when there is already so much work to do internally.  Essentially, we have to fix the system before we start the engine.

My companion is named Elder Ramirez and is from Mexico, which also means that he only speaks Spanish.  Luckily my Spanish is much improved since the beginning of my mission, but there are still moments where I have no idea what's going on.  What I have learned form experience and from other missionaries is to avoid what they call the "yes reflex".  When someone is under pressure and they are expected to understand the language they will often respond with an answer that detracts attention from them and moves along the conversation, like saying yes or no and hoping that they are right.  I had this pretty bad.  Now that I have some more experience I can at least determine which words I am not understanding and ask my companion what that word means.  Luckily he is patient with me and our companionship functions smoothly.  He is also very nice and a wonderful teacher.  

This last week has been quite the adjustment but it has almost been an amazing experience.  The people that we work with are few but wonderful and there is so much great work to do here.  Being in the campo is really amazing and being able to see so much jungle wildlife every time I step out of the house is exhilarating.  The living conditions are fairly low, the area is huge, and the members are few, but the work is still marvelous.  Some missionaries think that this area is dead, but that excuse didn't stop Christ when he found Lazarus; this area could do for a resurrection.

The Jungle Calls

March 12, 2012

After 6 months in Las Caobas I am finally being transferred out!  It is extremely bittersweet actually.  I love my area and the people that we work with, but a change of scenery will be a good thing for me I think.  In fact, I will be getting a major change of scenery as I am being transferred out deep into the countryside with a Spanish speaking companion.  My new area is called Yaguate in the town of San Cristobal and I will be with Elder Ramirez from Mexico.  It is deep in the countryside and relatively close to the ocean.  It's going to be quite the wild ride.  

This past week has been filled with preparation for next transfer and saying goodbye to all of the people I knew here.  I will be leaving behind Milton and his wife who just this week set a date for when they will be baptized.  They still need to get married which might take some time but they are attending church and are adamant about their decision to join the church.  We have found a few other great investigators in the past few weeks who I hope will progress with Elder Schaffer and his new companion. 

The only big news from this week came from Santa, who we are still working with after 4 transfers.  Apparently she was fed up with her husband living in the house and so she decided to barricade the door while he was at work to prevent him from entering.  Her plan worked and she hasn´t seen him for some time, but we don´t think that that will be a permanent solution to her problem.  Now I will be leaving and the next missionaries will have to do their best to help her fight her way to baptism, rather literally.  I did all I can and I am positive that she will one day be able to get baptized with her children, even if I am not there to see her through to the end. 

This transfer Elder Van Moos went home along with Elder Betteridge who is one of the veteran missionaries in our zone.  It´s amazing how fast the time flies, as cliche as that sounds.  We have a had a lot of fun sending off Elder Betteridge with small, missionary appropriate parties (aka hamburgers and sitting around talking about the mission).  I am also sad to leave behind Elder Domine who will be staying in his area training after only 3 transfers in the mission.  Also Elder Wilson, who I have become very good friends with, is training an Elder Petrie now who has an amazing conversion story.  They are all really amazing elders and it will be hard to leave them all.  Of course, I will also be saying goodbye to my companion Elder Schaffer who has taught me a ton about how to thrive in the mission.  It´s been a good few transfers and hopefully I can recreate what I had here in my new area.  It's going to be a hard transition, but so was leaving on a mission to live in a third world country and that turned out to be a fantastic decision.  

The jungle calls.  

New Companion, Same Story

 January 9, 2012

A new transfer has begun and I am now with Elder Schaffer from Kentucky.  Together we have been working hard to rejuvenate the area after a stagnant holiday season.  We work hard and we eat better because Elder Schaffer is also a wonderful chef.  Maybe I can learn a thing or two from him in these next six weeks.  If I don't then it's back to rice, beans, and chicken every day of the week. 

In recent weeks the tragic story of Santa, her kids, and her abusive, alcoholic husband has developed further than we may have anticipated.  When I was with Elder Van Moos, we desperately tried to meet with Santa and her husband together to try and discuss a peaceful solution to the matter.  The man needed to leave the house in order for Santa to be baptized, but he absolutely refused.  During the first week with Elder Schaffer we were miraculously able to meet with them both.  I didn't necessarily know what to say and Santa was looking uncomfortable, so I took a deep breath and just shared a short message about the importance of families.  I was able to commit the entire family, including the husband to attend church the following Sunday.  It was a step in the right direction. 

On Sunday, Elder Schaffer and I went to pick up Santa and her family so we could walk them to church.  We found the family of three girls and one boy ready for church and Santa's husband blazing drunk.  We left the husband at the house and brought the rest of the family along with us.  All throughout Sacrament Meeting I was distraught about the fact that we would eventually have to walk this family back to their home to a drunk man who has often been violent towards them.  After church all we could do was pray for help and support Santa with our testimonies.  As we were walking back from church we were stopped by a woman who knew Santa and who told us that her husband had kicked in the door to their apartment and was threatening to kill the family.  The situation had officially escalated out of our control so we called the police, waited for them to arrive, and then got ourselves away from the area.  Missionaries are obligated to avoid being near situations involving the police so we could only make sure she was safe and then talk to her after the fact. 

When we met with Santa the following day we found out that her husband was still living with her even after the police had shown up to look for him.  Apparently he had hidden from the police and Santa could only get a warrant for his arrest.  Santa told us that she was waiting for him to be drunk to call the police so that they would have a better chance of catching him and would have evidence of his abuse.  On Sunday, January 1st, we walked her home with 2 other Elders for safety and found Santa's husband among a group of friends and very drunk.  We left and called the police, but this time we found a distant roof to watch from.  We saw the police arrive and the man ran into a nearby apartment to hide.  We were astonished as the police searched the entire apartment complex for him and left empty handed.  From our distant perch we could see exactly where he was hiding and were thirsty for justice and so when the man retreated from his place of hiding we called the police once again and had them return.  This time he was caught by surprise and, after a small chase, was apprehended. 

When we met with Santa a few days later we were once again surprised to hear that her husband was back living with her.  Once she explained what happened we understood why.  When her husband was arrested, Santa didn't have enough money to pay for her husband to go to jail so instead she got a restraining order that, if broken, would send him to prison for life.  She figured that this would be better since having him go to jail would eventually mean he could return with a vengeance.  He now has until the 20th to get out of the house or Santa can call the police and have him forcefully removed.  We currently have January 27th set as the date when Santa and her children will be baptized.  It is a miracle that we could even set a goal with her.  Our entire experience with Santa has often been terrifying and trying, but it is hard not to look back and see traces of divine guidance and protection throughout the ordeal.  Hopefully this story will find it's happy ending at the end of this 


With the holiday season over and with our work engines on turbo, we have recently found great success and have many potential investigators who I have hopes will progress towards baptism.  We have seen our fair share of rejection and disappointment, as Paula became too busy to meet with us and two of our strongest investigators, Amalfi and Fior, insisted that they did not want to continue receiving the lessons, but we have only been inspired to work harder from our rejection and have found many more prospective investigators.  We have found multiple families who are very eager about our message and we even found one less active member who had been praying for help just as we knocked on his door.  The city is waking up and the work is moving forward once again.  I don't expect the font in our chapel to be dry for much longer.